Alaska Halibut Fishing – New Regulations to Devastate Many in the Alaska Halibut Charter Business

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New Permit System Projected to Eliminate 38% of Alaska’s Halibut Charter Businesses beginning in 2011

Under the new permit system announced in January 2010 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), all Alaska halibut fishing charter boats will be required to carry a new limited entry permit in order to legally fish for halibut beginning in the 2011 season.

In order to qualify for a permit, businesses will have to prove that they made at least five halibut fishing trips in three random years – 2004, 2005 and 2008. Those that cannot show this usage in those years will be out of luck.

The NOAA has stated that the new regulations are necessary to restrict the amount of charter halibut fishing boats and prevent overfishing. However, based on IPHC 2009 Report, the Alaska sport halibut fishing industry’s harvest of 8.7 million pounds represents less than 13% of the total halibut harvested; by comparison, the commercial halibut fishing industry harvested 51.2 million pounds and represented 76% of the 2009 total halibut catch.

NOAA’s new regulations will significantly impact the charter boat industry. Opponents of the rules decry that the regulations are un-American and anti-free enterprise. Bob Howard, owner-operator of Sea Nymph Charter complains that the regulations are “in conflict with the American free enterprise system. It’s like saying if you weren’t running a restaurant in 2004 or 2005 and 2008, you’re out of business.”

Howard did not fish in 2004 or 2005 because he was investing $100k in upgrading his 32-foot Sea Nymph so he will not qualify for a permit. If Howard wants to continue in the business, he will be forced to buy a transferable permit. Several permits are for sale on both Craigslist and SE Alaska Guides Organization for $100k or more.

Several experts on Alaska fishing have commented that by making the permits transferable, they have created a windfall for those that were in the “right place at the right time” and qualify based upon the randomly chosen years of operation. A halibut captain getting ready to retire has likely just received a substantial retirement bonus through the market design of this program.

In any case, what is clear is that the new regulations will significantly change the halibut charter industry by reducing competition and, according to the 259-page Environmental Assessment & Impact Report, it will put almost 4 Alaska charter businesses out of 10 out of business. 327 businesses in regions 3A and 2C are not projected to qualify for permits, while 527 businesses will receive permits.

Further information on the new charter Alaska halibut fishing permit program can be found on the NOAA website.